With all the fear, illness and death resulting from the global coronavirus pandemic, there may be some refreshing news. Quarantines and stay at home orders have led to a decrease in air pollution, according to scientists around the world. Strongly urging and, in some cases, requiring people to stay in their homes leads to less traveling and less operating of machinery. 

Although this causes a decline in worldwide industrial productivity, it also decreases the global carbon footprint. Managing the global carbon footprint is crucial as it represents the total amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted into the environment from fossil fuels.

The United Kingdom’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) discovered CO2 particle pollution in the atmosphere dropped by a third to a half in the U.K. cities London, Birmingham, Bristol, and Cardiff. 

“The air is definitely much healthier,” stated Professor James Lee at York University and a scientist at NCAS. Furthermore, the trace element of nitrogen has also declined at similar rates. Nitrogen, a colorless, odorless, gas, is produced from car engines, power plants, and industrial processes. Readings from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite confirm this decrease in nitrogen throughout the continents of Asia, North America, and Europe.   

“This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” an air quality researcher at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Space Flight Center told CNN. 

Figures from China show that a 25% reduction of energy use and emissions can bring far less traffic and cleaner air with only a small reduction in economic growth. Airline travel accounts for a large part of these emissions. Consequently, harmful jet fuel emissions escape into the air daily. However, due to the horrible pandemic, an increasing amount of flights have been canceled, thereby minimizing harmful gas emissions in our environment. This has already made the atmosphere significantly cleaner. 

Caroline Davies, the chair of Environmental Studies at the University of Missouri–Kansas City pleaded, “Seeing cleaner air in such a short amount of time is evidence of our need to act.” 

If this trend continues, analysts say it is possible the pandemic will lead to the first fall in global emissions since the 2008-09 financial crisis. Perhaps those suffering from this abnormal and distressing time can gain a small spark of hope from these clearer, cleaner, and brighter skies. 

Kiley Remiszewski, an earth science teacher at Concord Academy, stated, “This event is going to force us to make a few choices. We either continue down the path we are going, forming a limitlessly expansive economy with unbounded growth but also face uncontrolled greenhouse emissions, or live with a quieter economy that is more economically friendly and have an environment that is habitable for generations to come.” 

Remiszewski continued, “Today is not a good time but a great time to think about what we can do virtually; the steps we can take to travel less and benefit our environment.”  

By simply traveling less, greatly reducing food waste, recycling, and getting family and friends to support local environmental initiatives, we can get back on track and significantly reduce, if not put an end to, climate change – one positive takeaway from an otherwise majorly destructive period.